Johnson Holds Off Tiger to Win Masters

By Associated PressApril 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It all seemed surreal to Zach Johnson. Three clutch birdies on the back nine at the Masters. His name atop the leaderboard. Toppling Tiger Woods. Slipping on the green jacket.
 
'I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,' he said when asked to describe himself. 'That's about it. I'm a normal guy.'
 
Not anymore.
 
Zach Johnson
Defending champ Phil Mickelson helps put on the green jacket for Masters winner Zach Johnson. (WireImage)
Normal guys don't beat Woods in the final round of a major, especially when Woods is in the lead. Normal guys aren't unfazed by the ground-shaking cheers of Woods making an eagle to mount a charge.
 
Jack Fleck was a normal guy from Iowa, too, and he took down the great Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open.
 
Maybe everyone should have seen this one coming.
 
A strange week at Augusta National saved the biggest surprise for the very end -- Johnson as the Masters champion, and beating Woods to get there.
 
'As they say, a giant has got to fall at some point,' he said.
 
Johnson pulled away from Woods and the rest of the pack with three birdies in a pivotal four-hole stretch, closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini. It was only the second victory of his career.
 
Woods was within two shots after his eagle on the 13th hole, but all he could muster were pars the rest of the way. His last chance ended when his approach to the 18th settled 20 feet to the right of the pin. And for the first time ever in a major, Woods walked the final hole with no trophy waiting for him at the end and no one behind him on the course
 
'I was sitting in the locker room, waiting for Tiger to hit his shot on 18, and I thought, 'He's done stranger things,'' Johnson said. 'The guy is a phenom. The next person to come along like him, who knows how long that will be? It makes it that much more gratifying knowing I beat Tiger Woods.'
 
Even more gratifying to Johnson was winning on Easter.
 
'My faith is very important to me,' he said. 'I had people looking after me. It was awesome.'
 
The 31-year-old Johnson is the least accomplished Masters champion since Larry Mize, who also had only one PGA Tour victory, chipped in to beat Greg Norman in a playoff 20 years ago.
 
But this was no fluke.
 
The thrills and spills finally returned to Augusta National in the final round. Through it all, Johnson kept his cool.
 
'I felt like I've been blessed and I'm good enough to take home the green jacket,' Johnson said. 'That's what I was trying to tell myself the entire time and it worked out in my favor.'
 
Johnson finished at 1-over 289, matching a Masters record last set in 1956 for highest winning score. And it ended a streak of the winner coming out of the final group at Augusta National ever year since 1991.
 
'He played beautifully,' Woods said. 'Look at the round he shot out there, the score. He did what he needed to do. He went out there, grinded away, made shots he needed to make.'
 
Woods looked like a lock for his fifth Masters and third straight major when he took the lead after a short birdie on the second hole, only this major didn't work out like so many others.
 
Johnson and three other players came after him, and this time Woods was the one who backed off with sloppy mistakes -- a broken club, shots that either found the water or the bunker and too many putts that stayed out of the cup.
 
It was the third time Woods lost a lead during the final round of a major, and the first time he ever failed to get it back.
 
He closed with a 72, the first time as a professional he has played the Masters without breaking par. Goosen and Sabbatini each shot 69 on a day when the course finally allowed something that resembled those fabled charges on the back nine.
 
Johnson chipped away at the myth that the Masters is only for the big boys. He didn't try to reach any of the par 5s in two all week, yet he played them better than anyone with 11 birdies and no bogeys.
 
'I knew if I stayed in the present, I'd do well,' he said. 'I kept rolling that ball, and it was my day, I guess. Pretty lucky.'
 
Defending champion Phil Mickelson presented him the green jacket. It was six years ago when Johnson first showed up at Augusta National with a ticket and followed Lefty around as he tried to stop Woods from a fourth consecutive major.
 
Now, Johnson can come back to play in the Masters as long as he wants as one of the most unlikely champions.
 
Woods walked away bitter again, not so much at his play on Sunday but for the way he finished in previous rounds. A bogey-bogey finish on Saturday that ultimately cost him the lead, and a bogey-bogey finish on Thursday that set the tone for his week.
 
'I had a chance,' Woods said. 'But looking back over the week, I basically blew this tournament on two rounds where I had bogey-bogey finishes. That's 4 over on two holes. You can't afford to do that and win major championships.'
 
Even so, he didn't help himself in the final round.
 
Two shots behind making the turn, Woods found a bunker on the 10th and failed to save par. His tee shot stopped next to a Georgia pine on the next hole, and Woods' 4-iron collided with the tree immediately after he hit the ball, bending the shaft almost in half. He did well to save par there, and seemed to hit another gear on the 13th.
 
With the 4-iron in pieces, he hammered a 5-iron over the creek at the 13th and watched it trickle down the top shelf within 3 feet away for his only eagle of the week.
 
Johnson, who laid up short of the 15th green, was walking to his third shot when he heard the roar and 'I assumed Tiger made eagle' to pull within two shots.
 
Johnson made par from just off the green, then holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th to cap his run and put Woods in position of needing a charge of his own. Woods simply didn't have it.
 
His 15-foot birdie attempt on the 14th broke across the front of the cup. And from the right rough on the 15th, needing to bend the ball around the pines, his 3-iron came up just short and into the water. He pitched to 7 feet to save par and stay in the game.
 
Johnson three-putted from about 35 feet on the 17th for bogey, again leaving Woods hope. But he missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and his approach to the 17th came up short in a bunker.
 
'What the hell was that?' Woods said.
 
Goosen also had his chances, going out in 32 to take the lead and making only one bogey on back nine, a three-putt at No. 12. But it was a peculiar decision to hit iron off the tee at the 510-yard 13th -- easily reachable in two -- and he left himself only an 18-foot attempt for birdie, which he missed. He also laid up on the par-5 15th after driving into the trees.
 
The best chance to catch Johnson belonged to Justin Rose, who made five birdies in a nine-hole stretch through the 16th and was one shot behind until hitting his tee shot into the trees on No. 17 and taking double bogey. Rose finished with a 73 and tied for fifth at 292 with Jerry Kelly (70).
 
Stuart Appleby, who had a one-shot lead over Woods going into the last round, recovered from a double bogey on his opening hole to join a four-way tie for the lead on the back nine until he hit 7-iron into Rae's Creek on the 12th hole and took double bogey.
 
With two double bogeys on his card, he shot 75 and finished four back.
 
'I had too many doubles and a triple,' Appleby said. 'You can handle bogeys out here. But once you do the big numbers, you walk yourself backwards. It was a tough day. I enjoyed the day. Would have loved a rosier finish.'
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.